Chronic pain is a universal problem prevalent among the elderly, with nearly 5 million people above 65 years in constant pain. The lower back, knees, legs, and hips are the common pain locations in the elderly. Chronic pain is immensely personal, and it’s often difficult for someone else to understand how you feel.
Older adults have a higher disease incidence, many of which lead to chronic pain, and aging can also cause an increase in pain sensitivity, partly related to brain atrophy.
The problem is that older people believe pain is expected and regarded as normal, causing many seniors to suffer in silence without proper assessment and management.
Causes of Chronic Pain in the Elderly
Chronic pain has many causes and can be musculoskeletal, meaning it originates from muscles, bones, and joints. It could also be neuropathic when its origin is the nervous system. Advanced age increases the risk of diseases that cause chronic pain, and the elderly are also prone to injury and infections. Common causes of chronic pain in the elderly include;
- Bowel disease
- Old injuries
- Pressure injuries
- Urinary tract infections
- Previous surgeries
How Chronic Pain Affects The Elderly
Chronic pain significantly impacts the lives of the elderly, affecting their daily living, mental health, and relationships, and it is a substantial financial burden. It can lead to;
- Impaired mobility
- Social isolation
- Financial distress
- Increased mortality
- Depression and anxiety
- Lack of muscle strength
- Increased risk of falling
Assessment of Chronic Pain
Your doctors will assess the intensity and severity of your pain through history taking and physical examination for effective management. Sometimes it is tricky since seniors tend to underreport their pain while others cannot report it due to a decline in cognitive function.
Here are things to report during pain assessment to help your doctor manage your pain;
- Impact of pain on your daily functioning, including social life and sleep disturbance
- Your beliefs, treatment goals, and what you expect from the treatment
- Past treatments and surgeries
- What do you do to cope with your pain
Your doctor may also request imaging tests to better understand and diagnose your condition before treating you.
Managing Pain in The Elderly
Many factors complicate pain management in the elderly, including;
- Age-related physiological changes that alter drug absorption and renal excretion.
- Cognitive impairment
- Polypharmacy affects adherence to treatment
- Adult beliefs about pain and its treatment
- Multiple comorbidities limiting treatment options
Treatment options for managing pain in the elderly include;
- Over-the-counter pain medications like NSAIDs and acetaminophen
- Opioid analgesics
- Adjuvant analgesics like antidepressants
Other treatment options are available depending on the cause of your chronic pain. Talk to your pain management doctor to know the best approach to your chronic pain.
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